327 KillaThe autobiography of Kevin Kilbane
by Kevin Kilbane
Aurum, £18.99
Reviewed by Jonathan O'Brien
From WSC 327 May 2014

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Sixteen and a half years on, it seems surreal to recall that when Kevin Kilbane initially broke into the Ireland squad, he was touted as a bright, shining young hope who could give Damien Duff a serious run for his money on the wing. Things didn't pan out that way, of course. But only one of them appeared in 66 competitive internationals in a row, and it wasn't Duffer.

That extraordinary stat (in the history of international football, only Billy Wright managed a longer streak) sums up Kilbane's entire career. Never more than ordinary on a technical level – I once saw him lose possession against Israel at Lansdowne Road by doing an inexplicable 360-degree pirouette while the ball trundled slowly towards him – he built himself a decent and rewarding career through sheer hard work and force of will.

Football memoirs don't always reflect the subject's own persona (read Gordon Strachan's for proof, or rather don't) but this one does. Killa is a stolid, honest and meticulous read. Generous-spirited, too, in more ways than one: all the proceeds go to a Down's Syndrome charity. Kilbane is the sort of player who can still remember what he had for breakfast on the morning of a game in Reykjavik in 1997, and who said what to whom after a match against Macedonia aeons ago. Either that or he kept a detailed diary.

His otherwise happy 1980s Preston childhood was darkened by an alcoholic father who "pissed away all his wages", and whose eventual departure from the family home "made no difference to my life". Kilbane himself briefly became something of a drunkard in 1994, a pattern which came to an abrupt end when he was caught stealing a car stereo and a police sergeant gave him "the longest bollocking of my life".

The tone is generally positive and sunny (I lost count of the number of times players or teams were referred to as "great lads"), but there are sporadic glints of anger. Cesc Fàbregas's reputation for arrogance is added to here as Kilbane relays his obnoxious comments during an Arsenal v Huddersfield cup tie ("This team are shit!"). Later in the book, a Coventry fan screams at Kilbane that he deserves to have a handicapped daughter (Elsie has Down's Syndrome). Kilbane tells him to fuck off, but is then pressurised by the club into making a public apology. Kilbane offers the fan the chance to hear the apology face to face, secretly hoping in vain that he turns up because "an apology was the last thing I was going to offer him".

A few more interesting nuggets pop up – David Moyes supposedly finds it near-impossible to relax even on squad getaway breaks; hard man Thomas Gravesen privately cringed at the idea of being tackled hard; and Kilbane claims that Ireland's players came up with the tactical gameplan for the fateful World Cup play-off in Paris behind Giovanni Trapattoni's back. In the main, however, Killa mirrors its subject almost exactly, taking few chances and diligently plugging away. It passes a few hours agreeably enough, but that's all.

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327 Campbellby Simon Astaire
Spellbinding Media, £18.99
Reviewed by Adam Powley
From WSC 327 May 2014

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Major football biographies have taken a bit of a battering of late, with many publishers offering huge advances on books which failed to sell. Now, doubting commissioning editors are all looking for an "angle". Sol Campbell's biography, written by Simon Astaire, fits the bill. The headline grabber is inevitably only a small part of the story, but Campbell's assertion that he was denied the England captaincy due to the colour of his skin has been a 
publicist's dream.

It is also a serious accusation and one that has received widespread condemnation. One criticism is that it negates the more serious issues about lingering racism in football. It is also challengeable factually as well as being fodder for those who see Campbell as a whinger. As far as this book goes, it's another example of Campbell's lifelong grudge about being neglected.

At its heart, for all the extensive memoir of a hugely successful career, the book is primarily about Campbell's resentments, and in particular the fractured relationship with his late father. Yet for someone so prone to self analysis, he shows a glaring lack of self awareness. He moans about the England manager Steve McClaren failing to call him but leaves his future wife in the lurch by not answering her calls for three months. And he agonises about his father's distance while all but ignoring his own record as a parent who has had little or no contact with one 
of his children.

This will chime with the many Tottenham fans who still dislike Campbell for his move to Arsenal. There is some welcome context on the build-up to that event, and the pure logic of the move is evident. But his preening conviction – the other extreme of Campbell's complex character – simply doesn't countenance that it might not have been the most 
honourable of decisions.

Emerging from a difficult upbringing, Campbell shouldn't be admonished for his ambition, but doesn't appear to appreciate the consequences of his actions. He is now playing down the England captaincy accusation, like letting off a firework then complaining about the bang. In a Newsnight interview with non-football fan Jeremy Paxman, the message was hopelessly muddled – a result of Campbell trying to position himself as the intelligent footballer with something profound to say, but lacking articulacy.

Campbell fares better expressing himself via his biographer. He has interesting perspective on his experience at Lilleshall, while the chapter on life at Arsenal under Arsène Wenger and David Dein is enlightening. But the navel gazing overwhelms. The hitherto publicity-shy Campbell is laid bare as needy, introverted, a maddening mix of single-minded focus and debilitating reserve.

For all that, Astaire does a good job of keeping the narrative on track, while extracting genuine insight into playing at the elite level. The passages on the England v Argentina World Cup games convey the sheer intensity these contests generated. The antics of the Munto snake-oil salesmen who hijacked Notts County – and made a fool out of Campbell – make for a bleakly comic contrast.

This, however, is a biography only in name. It would have been productive, for example, to hear from the mother of Campbell's first child, or what his 11 siblings have to say, yet, over nearly 300 pages, only three of them are even mentioned by name. "Why don't people understand I'm just different to most professional footballers?" Sol pleads. He just wants to be loved, it seems – but he is hard work to warm to.

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326 McDerby John McDermott 
& Simon Ashberry
The History Press, £9.99
Reviewed by Pete Green
From WSC 326 April 2014

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In many ways John McDermott's book is the archetypal lower-league autobiography. You have contractual wrangles and several relegations shot through with moments of glory, laddish hijinks on pre-season tours of Scandinavia, a touching sense of wonder when the player crosses paths with his contemporaries from the Premier League and transcription from interview tapes with a minimum of editorial effort. Rather than leave for a new club every chapter, though, McDermott spends all of his 21-year, 750-match career with Grimsby Town.

This is what makes his story remarkable. He is, perhaps, the last of his kind – not just at Blundell Park, but anywhere. McDermott was long recognised as one of the best full-backs outside the top flight, having perfected the art – as we Town fans sometimes called it – of defending without tackling. "The best defender on any team is the one with the cleanest pair of shorts," he is told as a young player, and "that became my forte, staying on my feet rather than sliding in rashly." It's Not All Black & White sounds only the faintest notes of wistfulness as the author reflects on transfer approaches from Ipswich, Bradford and Watford – all three of whom go on to reach the Premier League. An England scout arrives early on but McDermott has just been sent on a cross-country run by manager Mick Lyons and has a stinker.

As a schoolboy McDermott travels down from his native Middlesbrough for a trial and never looks back. He speaks of his club and adopted hometown with gentle rather than showy affection (once asked by a national paper why he stayed with Grimsby, he cited the area's low house prices). Over two decades managers come and go, and with them a variety of methods. Lennie Lawrence takes Town to the bottom of the second tier but McDermott admires his futuristic approach to fitness. More typical is the illustrious Alan Buckley, who throws down the scouts' opposition report and says: "Right, read it if you want but I'm not bothered if you don't... it's all about us."

McDermott's situation eventually prompts a sad and telling reflection on footballers' pay. Wages reflect only what it costs to retain a player – not his ability. When an ageing star is performing superbly these are not the same. Supporters vote McDermott player of the year, but at the age of 36 approaches from elsewhere are unlikely, so the then Grimsby chairman John Fenty (who essentially retains the role to date, in all but name) cuts his weekly pay from £650 to £300. Witness a club legend scrabbling around for odd jobs at the ground to bring in an extra £50 a week, and you see the kind of house Fenty has been running.

For all the talk of McDermott's loyalty, the most striking trait in evidence here is his dignity. He speaks of Fenty with a surprising lack of bitterness and declines to settle old scores with the senior players who bullied him as an apprentice. In 2009, after retiring, he receives the PFA Merit Award – bestowed previously upon the likes of Jimmy Armfield and Alex Ferguson – and his humility shines on. As with the playing style, so with the man: never lunging in, always staying upright. He's Grimsby's greatest ever and his story is compelling.

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326 FashThe Justin Fashanu story
by Nick Baker
Reid Publishing, £14.99
Reviewed by Paul Buller
From WSC 326 April 2014

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How much is there left to say about a man of whom so much has already been said? This biography of Justin Fashanu will certainly not be the last. The sleeve notes of Nick Baker's Forbidden Forward promise more detail than ever before and to identify "those who are to blame for his untimely death".

That salacious hook thankfully fails to live up to its promise and is a distraction from what is a comprehensive insight into Fashanu's life, from birth through to the moment he took his own life aged just 37, with intimate contributions from those acquainted with him along almost every step of the way.

Described as "a hero to some, a conman to others and an enigma to most", Fashanu's story is that of a young black footballer's struggle to make it in his career and life, with the added burden of coming to terms with being a gay man in two unforgiving environments – professional football and evangelical Christianity.

This could be the story of many a young player: catapulted to stardom as a teen, treated brutally by a new manager (Brian Clough), terrible with money but fond of the high life. But it's the mix of circumstances that make Fashanu's tale so engaging. He was a striker of supreme ability with a penchant for on-field violence; an intelligent, gentle, well-spoken young man off the pitch who was both introvert and extrovert, aloof and needy, avaricious and generous.

It's a shame then that what should be a fairly fluid tale jars at regular intervals. The story of his early idyllic life in sleepy rural Norfolk, where Fashanu grew up boxing and playing endless football, is brought to a screeching halt by clunky metaphors and segues: "While other kids his age were down the arcade or hanging out on street corners smoking, Fashanu was perfecting his punch and smoking opponents" is but one of many that get in the way.

The author feels the need to remind us too often that life will not always be as rosy as the early years: portents of the doom are waiting at every opportunity, mostly at the end of chapters in what feels like an unnecessary plea for us to keep reading.

Baker also occasionally offers his opinion on Fashanu's state of mind and the treatment he received as a black and openly gay man but it's more pub psychology than insight. When we're treated to a graphic description of how the book's subject took his own life we're told, twice, what he was thinking as he he did it. Fashanu was alone at the time, left only a simple note and told no one of his intentions, yet the author writes as if he was there.

In the end, no one is blamed for Fashanu's death, but don't take that as a spoiler. Beyond the publisher's hype and some slack editing, the book gives an insight into a tumultuous life that remains as intriguing now as it did when Justin Fashanu was alive.

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326 Willieby Willie Morgan with Simon Wadsworth
Trinity Mirror, £16.99
Reviewed by Graham McColl
From WSC 326 April 2014

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If the purpose of this book were to rid Willie Morgan of the image of being George Best's doppelganger, it sets about it in a strange fashion. Behind the main picture on the cover, faint background images show Morgan at various stages of his life from babe to footballer but, inexplicably, the only other person amid these images is Best, Morgan's late 1960s and early 1970s fellow winger at Manchester United. On the inside back flap, there is a picture of Morgan in a United strip… along with Best. Inside the book there is only one advertisement for another publication – a page-sized promotion for The Best of Best, a "souvenir magazine" from the Daily Mirror that boasts "lost images" of "The Genius As You've Never Seen Him Before".

George is given further prominence once the story begins, receiving a mention on more than 40 pages. Yet in Bestie, George's own 1998 authorised biography, Morgan features only twice, both times derogatorily. "Morgan always seemed a bit jealous," Georgie says. Morgan, in contrast, on first mention of Best, says, touchingly, that their lives would be "intertwined".

Pushing this book on the back of Best, as someone has decided to do, is unnecessary. Morgan is an engaging storyteller, a happy-go-lucky individual with an underlying toughness forged, as he relates in excellent detail, through his upbringing in Sauchie, the Clackmannanshire mining village. He is also capable of some fabulous self-promotion: "Along with Geroge Best [who else?], I was one of the two biggest stars in football," he says of mid-1968 – the era of Eusébio, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Jimmy Johnstone, Pelé, Denis Law et al.

One early inconsistency almost brings the tale to a shuddering halt, though. Willie states that his dad, after a theological dispute with a Canon Matthews in Sauchie when Willie was around 12, had "wanted to kill" Matthews, and never went to church again. Yet, when Willie turns 15, his dad keeps him on at school, on the advice of a priest, rather than sending him down the pit, because: "My dad was never one to go against the wishes of the church." This seeming inconsistency is more than a pedantic niggle. If Willie goes down the mine, he doesn't play schools football, doesn't get spotted by Burnley FC, doesn't become a pro footballer, doesn't write this book.

Get over that hurdle and the book lives up to the breathless cover blurb of "hundreds of tales" about "the hell-raising Best [him again] and a host of others", although the story of Scotland's 1974 World Cup is shockingly light on insider detail. Things peter out with post-playing tales of socialising with people such as Rod Stewart which does at least bring some amusement, with a schoolboyishly eager Stewart asking Willie, as they attend a match, to relate each stage of his own pre-match professional routine. "I would probably be picking some horses out right now for the next race," Morgan replies. His yarn is like that all the way through and plentifully enjoyable for it.

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326 Gillespieby Keith Gillespie
Sport Media, £16.99
Reviewed by Robbie Meredith
From WSC 326 April 2014

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The advance publicity for, and newspaper serialisation of, Keith Gillespie's autobiography concentrated heavily on his prodigious gambling habit. Given that Gillespie estimates he squandered around £7 million over the course of his career this is understandable, but How Not To Be A Football Millionaire is much more than a tale of beaten dockets. To his credit, Gillespie refuses to wallow in self-pity or to portray himself as a particularly likeable man.

Rather he comes across as intelligent, complex and contradictory – despite a lifelong, and ultimately damaging, habit of refusing to face up to conflict or responsibility, he's refreshingly willing to put the boot in now his career is over. He's withering about Stuart Pearce's "Psycho" image, and there's a telling depiction of Graeme Souness striding around Blackburn's training ground in nothing but a towel and formal shoes, but his deepest scorn is reserved for his former manager at Sheffield United, Kevin Blackwell. There's an elongated and blackly comic account of his time working under Blackwell, which culminates in a series of late-night abusive text messages.

Gillespie's chronic gambling habit is nurtured at Old Trafford early in his career, where he gladly takes on the task of placing bets for Alex Ferguson, but it reaches its nadir at Newcastle. One of the most pathetic images in the book, although I doubt if he sees it that way, is of Gillespie spending endless afternoons on his sofa – phone in one hand and Racing Post in the other – placing huge telephone bets on the horses. A crisis comes when he loses £62,000 in two days, but the strengths and flaws in Kevin Keegan's management are apparent when, rather than imploring his player to seek help, he organises a club payment to Gillespie's bookie to clear the debt; a misguided act which, yet again, prevents the player from taking charge of his own life.

Money, clubs and marriages alike then come and go, while no night out is turned down. "Anything," he puts it, "to relieve the boredom." Gillespie was a very good player, but it's tempting to wonder how much better he'd have been without being out on the lash three nights a week. He remembers only two games, for Newcastle against Barcelona and Northern Ireland's famous win over England in 2005, where he actually sat in after a match.

A typically hasty and mistaken attempt to make a quick buck by investing in film schemes leads to bankruptcy late in his career when he can least afford it. However, this ultimately forces Gillespie to counter the failings in his own character, not least by opening the numerous final demand envelopes cluttering up his living room. It is too cliched to claim that Gillespie achieves redemption at the end of his tale. Rather he gains the uncertain gift of a better understanding of himself. In doing so, he provides a compelling glimpse into the dark void inherent in the modern age of adrenaline-fuelled football celebrity.

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324 ArmstrongThe David Armstrong biography
by David Armstrong 
with Pat Symes
Pitch Publishing, £17.99
Reviewed by Harry Pearson
From WSC 324 February 2014

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There was always something a little Dickensian about Middlesbrough and Southampton midfielder David Armstrong. Small, prematurely bald, slightly portly with a face that fell naturally into an expression of melancholy, he was more Oliver Twist than the 1970s footballer of popular mythology. Even his nickname Spike has a whiff of the Victorian workhouse about it.

The nickname, it transpires, was given to him by Middlesbrough team-mate Basil Stonehouse for no other reason than that Stonehouse thought someone in the squad should have it. It's the kind of anticlimactic tale that seems to have characterised Spike's career. A hard-working left-sided player and an excellent passer and crosser, Armstrong scored over 100 goals from midfield and was so robust at times he seemed indestructible (he made 356 consecutive appearances for Boro).

He was not a dribbler though, nor was he quick, both of which counted against him when it came to international honours – he was only capped twice by his country. Trophies too eluded him. At Ayresome Park Jack Charlton's reluctance to spend money – faced with a choice between Trevor Francis or Alf Wood, Big Jack opts, naturally, for the latter – scotches Middlesbrough's chances of silverware, while Southampton fall agonisingly short of a Double in 1983-84 with Armstrong playing in all 51 games.

While other footballers' autobiographies are often brimming with bitterness or rancour, The Bald Facts is tinged with sadness and regret. Armstrong's career ended by an ankle injury that was treated in so bungling a manner the player is barely able to stand up for several years, his finances in tatters, you come away from reading it with the impression that the midfielder feels let down, not necessarily by individuals, but by the game itself.

As is too often the case the player's unworldliness has hardly helped his cause. You don't need to be a genius to realise that when you are going to court for an alimony hearing driving into the car park in a brand new red Mercedes is not the best idea. That's what Armstrong does though. The results are predictable – his wife gets the house and whacking great yearly maintenance payments. "I came out of that court and burst pathetically into tears," Spike records. There are a lot of tears in these pages, the odd laugh too, and a rather puzzling story about dognapping and Joe Laidlaw. Ultimately though there's a sense of promise unfulfilled and of tales half told.

I started reading The Bald Facts during the hullabaloo that followed FA chairman Greg Dyke's comments on the number of foreign players in the Premier League weakening the national team. Armstrong, of course, played when there were very few non-British professionals in the English top flight so it is instructive to see the midfield Ron Greenwood selected for the game against West Germany in 1982. Alongside Armstrong were Alan Devonshire, Ricky Hill and Ray Wilkins. Is that the sort of line-up that would strike fear into the hearts of the current Spanish, German or Brazilian sides?

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324 Dunphyby Eamon Dunphy
Penguin Ireland, £20
Reviewed by Dave Hannigan
From WSC 324 February 2014

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Near the end of this enthralling book, Eamon Dunphy devotes a chapter to George Best, somebody he first encountered when they were both apprentices at Manchester United. Over the course of two particular anecdotes, one involving an afternoon's drinking in London that segues into a tabloid sting of Best's own orchestration, the other a night where the fallen icon plays pool with a Down's syndrome boy in a pub on the northside of Dublin, Dunphy paints as revealing and as poignant a portrait of the late genius as you will find just about anywhere.

In recent years, Dunphy has become something of a caricature of himself on Irish TV, making outrageous, often ill-informed comments on European and international football. Watching this admittedly entertaining cabaret act, it's easy to forget he has often been one of the most perceptive and insightful writers on the sport, from Only A Game?, the first warts-and-all journeyman diary of a season, to A Strange Kind Of Glory, his fine book on Matt Busby's United. Thankfully, The Rocky Road (the first volume of his memoirs – it ends in 1990) is a worthy companion to both those works.

While there are sections dealing with Irish politics and the Dublin media that may baffle and/or bore British readers, they are dwarfed by the substance of the book which is actually a gripping account of one man's journey through football. From his arrival at an Old Trafford still recovering from Munich to his role as national pariah for legitimately criticising the primitive style of Jack Charlton's Ireland during Italia 90, this is a complex and often uncomfortable read.

It isn't every football autobiography that deals with child abuse (he was a victim), and rails eloquently against the Catholic church and former president Eamon de Valera, the institutions that defined Ireland for much of the 20th century. Between his childhood in poverty in Dublin in the 1940s and 1950s to becoming one of the highest-paid personalities in Irish media, Dunphy lived many lives and they are all available here in fabulous detail.

The naive apprentice gambling away money he didn't have with Barry Fry and witnessing the arrival from Belfast of a teenage prodigy who would change the game. The journeyman pro growing embittered and disillusioned with the harsh reality of professional football at York, Millwall and Reading. A brief and disastrous spell trying to transform the League of Ireland alongside Johnny Giles in the mid-1970s. Through each incarnation, Dunphy is tough on a lot of people he met (Terry Venables, Bert Millichip and a cast of FAI blazers receive entertaining sideswipes), but true to his personality he is always hardest on himself and his own inadequacies.

One of the things that makes this such an enjoyable read is Dunphy's self-deprecating tone when recalling his own limitations as a footballer. Whatever they were, very few writers have offered us such a revealing glimpse into the brutal reality of an unforgiving sport in the 1960s and 1970s.

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323 LawKing and country
by Alex Gordon
Arena, £17.99
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 323 January 2014

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It's easy to understand why Denis Law was, and still is, idolised by so many Scotland fans. As this chronicle of his international career reminds us, he just loved pulling on the navy blue jersey. There's a palpable sense that he was just as excited and proud about his last cap – in Scotland's opening 1974 World Cup group match against Zaire – as he was when he made his debut against Wales in 1958.

He could play a bit too, which helped of course. Law remains, alongside Kenny Dalglish, his country's record goalscorer with 30 to his name. Twice he scored four goals in a game and he put a few in the back of the net against England. No doubting the iconic status of "the Lawman" then, but the trouble is this book just about goes right off the scale with the adulation. Superlatives are served up by the trowel – there's just about a different one for every goal that Law scored in his entire senior career and he got 325 of them. So it's not only the constant references to games from the Home Internationals and Scotland appearing in World Cup finals that evoke a bygone age. In an era where the warts-and-all biography laden with tales of compulsive behaviour disorders and dysfunctional relationships within dressing rooms is now the accepted norm you are left craving more gritty insight.

While the idiosyncratic Aberdonian seems nothing other than a down-to-earth type there are still a few aspects of his international career that would surely have justified some considered scrutiny. It's widely accepted that spanning the 1960s the Scotland team, blessed with talents such as Law, Jim Baxter, Jimmy Johnstone and others, underperformed by quite a margin in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, failing to reach the finals of either between 1958 and 1974. Just how much did the obsession with giving the English a right doing, personified by Law, distort and distract the national side's focus?

Even when Law was part of the squad that was taken to the 1974 finals there was a fair bit of hullabaloo about his inclusion which is only lightly dwelt upon here. It's pointed out that then manager Willie Ormond robustly defended the decision – however the fact that he was immediately dropped after the Zaire opener is surely a pointer that this was an issue worthy of more thoughtful examination. The trials and frustrations that Law faced with his lengthy injury woes and loss of form from 1967 onwards is another facet barely touched on.

Still, if as a kid like me you went around parading the trademark clenched cuff salute every time you scored a goal in the playground, there is probably more than enough here for you to enjoy wallowing in the nostalgia. It's just a shame we don't learn as much about Law the enigma as Law the legend.

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322 ImmortalThe approved biography of George Best
by Duncan Hamilton
Century, £20.00
Reviewed by Robbie Meredith
From WSC 322 December 2013

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Despite what Immortal would have you believe, George Best divides opinion in his home country. For each of the tens of thousands who stood reverently in the Belfast rain for his 2005 funeral, there is a counterpart embarrassed and infuriated by the constant scandals and drunken antics. It is a mark of his status, of course, that most people in Northern Ireland still care enough to have an opinion about Best – good or bad – and it is unlikely that Duncan Hamilton's "approved" biography will change what they think. Written with the blessing of Best's sister Barbara, the sibling most active in guarding his memory, Immortal has few words of condemnation for even the worst of his excesses, preferring to depict chaos engulfing Best, rather than something he was primarily responsible for.

The early chapters, detailing his rise, are familiar but still thrilling. The shy, good-looking boy from Belfast, spotted by the legendary scout Bob Bishop and a surrogate son to Matt Busby, becomes the fulcrum of an outstanding Manchester United team until Europe is conquered when Best is barely 22. Even in the "el Beatle" years, he lodged in a neat terraced house with the redoubtable Mary Fullaway, and it was a home he would often return to even as things were going wrong in later years.

Yet the hour of Best's greatest triumph, that 4-1 victory over Benfica at Wembley, is the beginning of a long, drawn-out end. Despite his iconic goal he felt he hadn't played well in the final, a portent of disappointments to come. In the troubled aftermath the book, echoing its subject, rather loses its way. While we now know much more of the twin afflictions of alcoholism and depression, from which he undoubtedly suffered, I suspect that Hamilton makes more excuses for Best's behaviour than Best, to his credit, 
actually did.

For, as Hamilton tells it, Best suffered primarily from feeling an excess of love, not for the booze and birds of tabloid tales, but for football and primarily Manchester United. His life does indeed come to resemble a kind of hell – in one telling passage, coachloads of visitors come to picnic in the unfenced garden of his ill-advised modernist home, Che Sera, and turn it into a spectral prison by gawping constantly through the all-encompassing glass.

Immortal becomes a long plea for understanding, and a lament that it wasn't a quality successive Manchester United managers after Busby displayed in Best's case. Yet although he was in the grip of twin evils, it is hard to see how Wilf McGuinness or Frank O'Farrell could have made more allowances for him, and Hamilton protests too much when he dismisses Best's drink-driving, assaults and violence against women in little more 
than a few sentences.

Hamilton is a terrific writer but he seems more determined to be sympathetic towards his subject than Best, in his more reflective moments, was about himself. Immortal is a fine biography and a fascinating portrait of a dawning age of sporting celebrity, but will appeal most to those already inclined to view Best as the last of the doomed football romantics.

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